Is a Plant-Based Diet for Diabetes Beneficial? The Pros and Cons

Posted November 25, 2020 by Clint Kelly - See Editorial Guidelines

Going “plant-based” and adopting a vegan diet has become very popular within the last few years. Claims of how healthy it is and how it could be superior to any other diet have circulated throughout online. However, is a plant-based diet for diabetes beneficial?

In this article, we will break down the benefits and disadvantages of a plant-based diet for diabetes. First, here is a quick summary to get us started, then we will get into the specifics.

Plant-Based Diet for Diabetes: A plant-based diet means that a person eats all, or mostly, foods that come directly from plants. A plant-based diet CAN be beneficial for diabetes, but there are some caveats to this. For example, some plant-based foods can be very high in carbohydrates and added sugars, which will have a negative effect on your diabetes condition.

With this quick explanation in mind, let’s get into the specifics.

What is a Plant-Based Diet?

Is a Plant-Based Diet for Diabetes Beneficial

A plant-based diet consists of foods that primarily come from plants, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and oils. This does not necessarily mean you are vegetarian or vegan or that you are completely cutting out meat and dairy from your diet.

Being plant-based means that the majority of what you eat is from plants rather than animal products. Being a vegetarian or vegan would require more discipline with what you allow yourself to eat. However, this article will still help determine whether or not being vegetarian or vegan is beneficial for diabetes.

Many of those that are plant-based will look to get a lot of their protein from beans and nuts.

Distinguishing What’s Healthy

As mentioned before, plant-based diets have become very popular over the years. And many people have hopped on this train of trying this lifestyle, and they claim they feel better. They start to have more energy, they’re losing weight, and they’re overall health improves.

However, can we directly attribute this to simply going plant-based?

When looking at claims such as this, it is important to consider what these people were eating before they went plant-based. Typically, when a person transitions to a plant-based diet, they start to become more conscious of the foods they eat and look for overall healthier options. For example, was a person eating animal products that have been highly processed and from fast-food restaurants?

Going from something like that to a lifestyle of eating whole-grain foods, fruits, and vegetables, is almost guaranteed to improve your health. If so, then this does not directly mean that a plant-based diet is most beneficial.

The health of a person with a healthy animal-based diet would need to be compared to the health of a person with a healthy plant-based diet.

I say this because we cannot take everything at face value. Some individuals live on an animal-based diet, sometimes referred to as a carnivore diet, and have incredible health. So, there may need to be more research to distinguish what is truly healthy. And what works for one person may not work for another.

Benefits of Plant-Based Diet for Diabetes

To understand whether a plant-based diet for diabetes is beneficial, we need to start at the basics. The determining factor for this question is how well-controlled one’s blood sugar levels are. The more controlled blood sugar levels one has, the less likely they are to develop other complications.

Many people with prediabetes are able to prevent this from developing into full-blown type 2 diabetes just by eating right. Some who already have type 2 diabetes can control their condition without medication by being disciplined with their diet and exercise.

So, will a plant-based diet help a person accomplish this?

According to research, individuals that maintained a strict plant-based diet consisting of whole foods were 23% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. The key here is whole foods. Many plant-based foods are natural and have lower glycemic loads. This can help improve one’s insulin sensitivity and lower blood pressure.

So, in this instance, a plant-based diet for diabetes is beneficial. But again, there is a caveat to this. 

Negative Effects of a Plant-Based Diet for Diabetes

Is a Plant-Based Diet for Diabetes Beneficial

Sticking to a strict plant-based diet can take time and planning. So, it can be easy to lose discipline or not plan accordingly. You can then start to slack off with the type of plant-based foods you start to consume.

For example, a person could call themselves plant-based; meanwhile, they’re eating white bread, refined grains, and other foods not from animals with high added sugar content. These will have an adverse effect on your blood sugar levels and decrease your insulin sensitivity.

So, in this case, it is better for a person to have a diet consisting of grass-fed beef, fish, and other whole foods. Lean meats are packed with protein and have none to very few carbohydrates, making them beneficial for those with diabetes.

What’s Right for You

To say that a plant-based diet is beneficial for diabetes is not completely true. We simply cannot generalize it. It’s not as much animal-based vs plant-based as much as it is healthy vs unhealthy.

Not all plant-based foods are healthy and not all animal-based foods are healthy. They each carry their pros and cons.

In order to determine what’s right for you, you have to look at the nutrients in all the foods you eat. You have to make sure you are getting enough protein, fat, fiber, and carbohydrates to stay healthy. Your best bet is to get all of these nutrients from natural foods that have not been highly processed and refined, regardless of whether it’s plant-based or not.

Having conversations between your doctor and a nutritionist will help you figure out a diet that fits your diabetes needs. Remember, diets and treatments for medical conditions are never one size fits all.

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has provided you with more guidance on whether a plant-based diet for diabetes is really beneficial. Not all the information we run across can be taken at face value. We encourage you to speak to your healthcare provider if you have any questions regarding your medical condition.

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